Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Cutting Edge of Efficiency

LEED, LEED, LEED. What on earth is that whole LEED certification all about? And why does it matter?

In short, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED Green Building Rating System is a standards and certification program offered by the U.S. Green Building Council (a coalition of leaders from across the building industry that promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work). There are versions for all building types, including New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Homes, Neighborhoods, and Healthcare. The criteria include six categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation and Design Process. There are four progressive levels of certification, based on the number of points that a building project earns: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

LEED-certified buildings:

* Increase productivity
* Conserve natural resources
* And cost less to operate and maintain

Currently, there are LEED-certified projects in all 50 states, 31 of which have adopted LEED standards. Additionally, 166 local governments have adopted LEED. About 30 percent of LEED-certified projects are owned by federal, state and local governments, plus many municipalities require not just government buildings but all new buildings (or all that are over a certain size) to be LEED-certified.

Increasingly, governments are offering alternative third-party-certified environmental building standards, such as the Green Globe program, which is originally a Canadian program that is gaining popularity in the United States. The building pictured above is the Newell Rubbermaid worldwide headquarters in Sandy Springs, which earned two Green Globes under that certification program. The 350,000-square-foot building features site design that minimizes its impact on the surroundings; energy-efficient lighting controls, HVAC equipment and building automation systems; water conservation systems; and materials made of recycled content. What's more, when I visited in a Prius, I got to park right up front in one of the parking spots designated for hybrid vehicles, which was particularly nice--and reminded me of when I used to get to park in those "for pregnant customers" spots!

As of right now, Georgia has no state policies about LEED (or similar) certifications. However, there are seven Georgia municipalities with local policies: Athens-Clarke County, Atlanta, Chamblee, Chatham County, Clarke County, Conyers, Doraville, and Tybee Island. A variety of "incentives" are offered to encourage environmental design in new buildings and renovations, such as density bonuses, expedited permitting, fee reductions/waivers for LEED certification, tax breaks, grants, and free technical and promotional services.

Government buildings built or renovated to meet environmental standards reduce costs to tax payers. Commercial buildings that meet these standards increase the long-term viability of the built environment by attracting and retaining tenants who are increasingly looking for ways to maximize their cost savings, increase their employee productivity, and align with their corporate sustainability objectives. So, in short, this stuff is important as part of a sustainability plan for a city, county or state. In fact, our city has LEED policy creation on its sustainability plan for later in the year. Tune in to what's happening around metro Atlanta and elsewhere on this topic, if you haven't already done so, so you can more fully appreciate what our city is trying to do to make a positive difference and to build a more secure future.

I found this Playbook for Green Buildings and Neighborhoods particularly interesting and useful. It provides local governments with guidance and resources to rapidly advance green buildings, neighborhoods and infrastructure. As we start to hone in on our vision for the City of Dunwoody, seeing "green" may help us be prosperous as a community in many ways for years to come.